Have you ever entered a lighthouse? If you have not, just picture its typical shape. It has a wide base that tapers to the top. As you enter, you have room to walk around and even have a cozy and relaxing area. As soon as you start climbing those steep stairs, it is almost like walking on a different dimension. Until you reach the top and have a breathtaking 360-degree view.
There are thousands of lighthouses worldwide, which despite their alikeness, each has their shape and height and colors. Same with identity. We each have our own identity, that uniqueness belonging to us and only each one of us. This core self is our inner lighthouse. Built on a robust foundation we call our core values.
Does it mean our identity is fixed and can never me changed? Not really, at least I do not believe so. Through our journey, we have different experiences, we face challenges and overcome struggles. These changes are sometimes abrupt and profound, shaking us to our core. This is when our lighthouse - our identity - acts as an inner compass guiding us (or sometimes derailing us!) from our path.
If you were to climb to the top of your lighthouse during an identity crisis, it may happen that the lights were temporarily shut off. You are in the dark, not being able to contemplate that extraordinary view. You are still inside the lighthouse though. You are still YOU; the light is within you. You just need a gentle push to turn on the lights again and see clearly.
The following 4 steps can help you navigate through an identity crisis:
1. Identify what grounds you: Going through an identity crisis raises plenty of questions and doubts. Back to the lighthouse metaphor, it is as if a storm comes by with strong winds and heavy rain causing a big mess. It shakes our core so intensely that it may feel as if you were losing yourself. So, again to the wide base of our lighthouse – our core values. No matter how fierce that storm is, it will not take the lighthouse down. Knowing your personal values, your non-negotiables, is key to not only survive the storm, but come out stronger and thrive. If you did not have a chance so far, take this opportunity to think about what matters to you the most, the principles that keep you grounded and define who you are at your core. Think about the main areas of your life – relationships, physical and mental wellbeing, work, financials, spirituality (revisit my post on wellness as reference) – and write a couple of words that describe what is essential to you in each area. Do not wait until you have a major identity crisis to know what your core values are. But in case it happens, even during such a significant shift, there will always be something within you that can make you survive any storm. Explore your inner lighthouse, look around for what is unique to you. Play to your core values, rely on this wide and robust base grounding you to your core self.
2. Play curious: Whether you are someone who keeps investing in their personal development or who are yet to start that inner journey, be curious. Throughout this journey we call life, we go through various transition phases and identity shifts. Challenges we face and struggles we overcome change us, sometimes in deeper ways. Every time a change happens from within, a new part of ourselves is revealed to us. It may feel a bit scary to take a closer look, as we do not know what we may find. What if I find something about myself that I do not like? Or do not know how to deal with? I’d ask you: What do you think happens if you look away? An identity crisis may bring to the surface aspects of yourself you were not aware of. Perhaps you were avoiding or neglecting them. Perhaps they are new parts of yourself developing and transforming from your most recent identity shift. Do not be afraid, play curious instead. Drawing a parallel with our lighthouse, look within, touch its walls, feel the texture and the resilient material they are made from, get acquainted with the colors and smell. What else do you see that you did not notice before? And what is new? You are safe. You are inside your lighthouse. Your core values will help you make sense of whatever you find out during your expedition.
3. Visualize your new you: While you go through this inner shift, there is still a light guiding the way. It is your lighthouse remember?! You still have access to the top, even if all the lights are temporarily shut off. Meaning that even in the dark, you can close your eyes and visualize this new version of yourself unfolding. What are you leaving behind? What do you want to take with you? When we talk about identity crisis, there is a shift happening. A part of yourself that is being questioned, most probably because it no longer fits into your new reality. Whatever change happened – big or small –, it shook you to the core pushing you to see yourself from a different set of lenses. If you play to your core values while beholding this new version of yourself transforming in front of you, what do you see? Take a moment to identify these new parts of yourself before letting go of those parts that no longer serve you. Then, venture up the stairs of your own lighthouse. Each step leaving behind the old to embrace the new. Each step leading you closer to this renewed YOU.
4. Be open to change: Now that you have reached the top of your lighthouse, take a moment to catch your breath. Let this new view sink in while you walk around and notice what is different. What do you see? How far can your vision reach? Perhaps the lights are not completely shut off anymore. Maybe there are even new lights with different colors. A few new boats in the horizon, some sailing faster than others. Some bigger, some smaller. It may not be exactly what you expected or precisely what you have envisioned. But remember that this is your lighthouse and your landscape. Whenever you feel like, you can step downstairs to regain power, energy, focus while you keep working on your vision. Use these stairs as a reminder that an inner shift takes its time, it is a process of letting go of the old to embrace the new. And when back to the top, know that you are not alone. Everyone is sailing through life at their own speed guided by their own lighthouse.
Going through an identity crisis is physically and emotionally demanding. Thus, self-compassion is an essential part of the process. Remember to be kind to yourself while you let go of parts of yourself that no longer serve you, to welcome a new version of yourself.
Sticking to the lighthouse metaphor, space had to be created to accommodate one (or more) new lens into the lights system. Once that lens became part of the whole mechanics, then the system was able to properly function again. You were never lost, as you always had your lighthouse as your inner compass. Now that the lights are turn on again, enjoy the clear view and sail bravely into the world.